Enthusiasm Is Contagious!

Neal Pollard

Have you seen The Weather Channel’s Jim Cantore video where he is ebulliently exulting over the thunder snow he witnesses and knows to be captured by his cameraman?  The YouTube video montage where he is on camera for six lightning strikes says it all.  At one point, he implies that he’d rather experience this weather event than win the $500 million lottery.  The enthusiasm is transparent and honest.  You can’t help to feel excited about what he’s excited about because he so enthusiastically expresses it.

Being a Christian is not necessarily a non-stop fist-pumping, mountain-top experience.  The late Wendell Winkler used to say that there are not very many mountain-top or valley days but that most were “in between.”  He called it “the glory of the ordinary.”  What we do on the ordinary days is what typically makes the bigger impact.  However, the genuine enthusiasm of Christians is certainly contagious!  Some of the best church leaders I have known have known how to inject others with zeal.  Other words are “passion,” “desire,” and “excitement.”  If this is artificial and contrived, it is eventually detected. True enthrallment for pursuing the will of God, though rare, leaves its mark far and wide.

What should fire our enthusiasm?

  • A baptism
  • A wayward Christian being restored
  • A well-delivered, challenging, and biblically accurate lesson
  • A demonstration of decisive, godly leadership
  • A challenge to growth or involvement
  • Godly conviction from our youth
  • Hearing of a good work within our brotherhood
  • Singing in worship
  • A sound idea for church growth
  • The dedication shown by a spiritual brother or sister

Challenge yourself.  Ask, “What gets me excited?”  If the Georgia Bulldogs were to ever win the National Championship again, look out world!  I’d give those around me a “Jim Cantore” moment.  My honest prayer is, “Lord, help my greatest passion and enthusiasm be reserved for the things that will endure after the heavens and the elements burn and melt” (2 Pet. 3:11).  Let’s get excited about serving Jesus and doing His will!

THE TACTICS OF TROUBLEMAKERS

Neal Pollard

When you come across Sanballat, Tobiah, Geshem the Arab, and the unnamed others of Nehemiah six, you can’t help but be struck by how timeless some things are.  The book of Nehemiah recounts the great construction project led one of the Bible’s great leaders, Nehemiah.  In fact, this Bible book is a great instruction manual on great traits of leadership.  Despite his skill, though, Nehemiah faced several obstacles.  He had overcome poverty, internal strife, and discouragement, only to encounter the opposition of troublemakers at this stage of the work. Notice what they did and how great leaders respond to such tactics.

He faced insincerity (1-3,10-12).  The aforementioned men tried to pull Nehemiah away from wall-building under the guise of a “meeting.”  Yet, the text says they sought him harm.  Later, we see that these troublemakers have hired an associate of Nehemiah’s, who fabricates a story meant to frighten him.  Both times, Nehemiah saw through the deception.  His answer was to focus on the work, refusing to leave it to become trapped in their snare.  When we are engaged in great works for Christ, there will be those, either out of jealousy or their own heart problems, who don’t want it to succeed.  Perhaps even despite an air of piety or “righteous concern,” they are willing to twist the truth to undermine our work.  Like Nehemiah, we must refuse to leave the work to be dragged into unproductive distractions.

He faced insistence (4).  They sent this same message at least five times!  Imagine Nehemiah and the others, up on the wall, finishing the job as the troublemakers keep pestering them with the same mantra.  Look at what Nehemiah does.  He sticks to his guns.  What grit and determination!  We should know that troublemakers often have nothing better to do.  They aren’t working on their own “walls,” so they choose to do nothing better than try to tear down the walls of others.  We must be prepared to keep working, however much they pester.

He faced insinuation and invention (5-7).  This is a favorite weapon in the troublemaker’s arsenal. They used talebearing, slander, gossip, and the like to try and undermine the work.  You can imagine the sneaky, slithery way in which they did it, can’t you?  “It is reported.” “Gesham says.”  “We’re going to report you to the king.”  What Nehemiah did in response is such a lesson for us.  He didn’t wring his hands or spend a lot of time with counterarguments.  He had truth on his side and did not feel compelled to wallow in the mud with the mudslingers.  He knew he was doing right, and he simply told them so.

He faced intimidation (9).  God gives us insight into the motivation of the troublemakers. Nehemiah says, “They all were trying to make us afraid.”  Why these mean-minded men were so obsessed with halting the work is not exactly clear, but pride and self-importance seem to play a part.  Nehemiah counteracts their bullying by going way over their head! He took it to God, praying for strength to overcome their pressures and threats. Obviously, as we read, God answered Nehemiah’s noble prayer.  When we face such intimidation, we have access to the same power!  That’s the first place we should turn when bullied by troublemakers.

How incredible that something which happened 2500 years ago can be so relevant to us today.  The old adage attributed to Aristotle is true: “To avoid criticism say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.”  Well, for Christians trying to do God’s work today, “nothing” is not an option.  We must be ever at work building His kingdom.  Thus, expect trouble and troublemakers.  Then, look to Nehemiah for the strategy to overcome them!  It still works.

HE WAS COACHING ON ONE KNEE

Neal Pollard

What I’m about to do is painful and very nearly contrary to my nature.  It involves praising something about New England Patriots’ head coach Bill Bellichick, he of “Spy Gate” and “Deflate-Gate” infamy.  Yet, something he was witnessed doing on the sidelines during the late stages of Super Bowl XLIX gives great insight into why he has coached a record-tying four Super Bowl champions.  While Pete Carroll was on the other sideline, commendably patting players on the back and showing excitement and energy, Bellichick was seen on the other side of the field down on a knee speaking with players on both the offense and the defense.  For whatever we want to say about what we don’t like about him, he’s renowned within the team as a strict disciplinarian that even makes players nervous.  Without negotiation, he expects everyone to give their best.  And, he expects it done without fanfare, a Wall Street Journal article showing this with a memorable Bellichick quote: “Playing well is playing well. You can break it down into 17,000 adjectives, but it’s doing your job” (Kinkhabwala, 1/15/11).  But, when the Pats were down by 10 and panic might have overtaken him, he was calmly, coolly sharing an expectation or going over a game-plan to overcome the adversity.

So, I still don’t have to like him or the Patriots, but I appreciate that.

Leadership is about so many different, vital qualities. Energy and effervescence, passion and praise all can play a part.  However, there is hardly a substitute for a mentor, one who is serious, thoughtful, and caring enough to pull someone aside and give him or her individual attention.  The word usually translated “exhort” in the New Testament is from a Greek word which means “calling to,” “appeal to and earnestly request,” or “call to one’s side” (Kittel, np, Louw, np, and BDAG, 764).  Who doesn’t appreciate the loving, caring approach of an elder or other spiritual leaders, whether preachers, older members, deacons, and the like, who guide us and help us with biblical understanding, moral dilemmas, and ethical quandaries. They have that timely word when we are discouraged, that nugget of wisdom that seems meant for that moment.

I think we all desire leaders who will get down on one knee with us, as it were.  Leaders like these are who Paul had in mind when he wrote, “But we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction, and that you esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Live in peace with one another” (1 Th. 5:12-13).   Thank God for great leaders who, with weighty responsibilities on many fronts, take a moment to come alongside us with encouragement and insight.

Why These Are Exciting Times

Neal Pollard

I am filled with a tremendous sense of optimism that is not generated by politics, current events, the media, the economy, or any other worldly thing.  Neither am I fueled by some Pollyanna spirit.  Yet, I cannot shake this swelling tide of hope that fills me on a daily basis.  It is a hope for what the church and its members can be in the face of the growing challenges we face in this culture and around the world.  Why are these such exciting times?

The darkness is allowing the light to shine brighter!  Sadly, moral, ethic, philosophical, and civil behavior is eroding.  The messages being sent by those in power and authority are increasing anti-biblical.  Those who have lived for any length of time have witnessed a pretty dramatic shift in thinking and behavior.  This is reflected in so many things from language on the job and on “the street” to what is allowed and promulgated in TV and movies to the blatant lifestyle choices of the rank and file.  What all this means is that as Christians we can, by leading “a quiet life in all godliness and dignity” (1 Ti. 2:2; cf. 1 Th. 4:11), shine the light of Christ (cf. Mat. 5:14-16).  As we share Christ with those in our circle of influence, we can countermand the marching orders of the “world forces of this darkness” (Eph. 6:12).  That, brothers and sisters, is exciting!

People are earnestly searching! I read with interest the studies about exiting millennials, new world orders (not just conspiracy theories, but fundamental shifts in worldviews), spirituality over organized religion, and the like. For all of that, down where we live day by day on our jobs, at school, in our neighborhoods, and our community and civic activities, people are longing for meaning and purpose in their lives.  Yes, they can be confused and misguided.  Yes, they have broken and messed up lives.  Yes, this produces a great challenge to churches as we are intentional and outwardly focused.  But, we have not seen a day in any of our lifetimes where biblical ignorance and, thus, directionlessness has been greater.  Remember what Jeremiah said: “I know, O Lord, that a man’s way is not in himself, nor is it in a man who walks to direct his steps” (10:23).  There are many who would say with the Ethiopian nobleman, “How can I (understand, NP), unless someone guides me?” (Acts 8:31).

The church is ripe for revival! It seems that the tale most churches with whom I have contact tell boils down to larger numbers, greater involvement, and younger members occurred in the past! Thus, panic, pessimism, and perplexity lace the private conversations and public addresses of the pulpits, the pastors, and the pews. Perhaps it is time for congregations to consider moving from the defensive to the offensive. I don’t know that individual Christians have ever been more impressed with the dire urgency of evangelizing than right now. I believe the conviction and dedication of our Christian soldiers is palpable.  With bolder leadership, concerted efforts, and a faith-filled plan of action, I believe the church as a whole is poised for growth.  This will require a change of priority, focus, and commitment, but I believe that we are more than ready for it.  We are eager for it!

But, time is short!  Paul is right.  “The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light” (Rom. 13:12).  If ever the mantra, carpe diem, has applied, it is right now!  May our anthem become, “Rise up, O men of God!”

MR. OBAMA’S EXAMPLE OF LEADERSHIP

Neal Pollard

As one who grows less political each day, I have hesitated to write anything that would look partisan or otherwise politically divisive.  The answer to man’s biggest problems starts with neither “R” nor “D” but rather “J” and “C.”  However, as one who loves our country, I am concerned at our president’s seeming and increasing aloofness, inattention, disengagement, and unconcern with international and domestic crises. The latest Rasmussen poll reveals that 45% of likely voters consider the president a poor leader (www.rasmussenreports.com). Earlier this year, a Gallup poll found that more Americans (53%) than not (41%) believe our president is not respected “on the world stage” (www.gallup.com). This may stem from the fact that he lacks, as Doug Mataconis suggests, “executive experience…” (Christian Science Monitor, 7/29/14). Even prominent people within the president’s party, like former AOL Time Warner CEO, describe themselves as “beyond disillusioned” at the chief executive’s “hugging and hobnobbing” rather than appearing more engaged in the various, volatile current situations.  Taken together, the growing disapproval of Barak Obama’s leadership stems from such things as apparent disinterest, failure to listen, inexperience, and blind adherence to an ideology without examining the specifics of a situation.

In every context, leadership is seen as an essential cog in the proper function of any organization.  If a church, a home, a company, a school, or a nation seem to be failing and floundering, look at leadership.  In a church, that includes especially elders but also preachers and deacons.  In a home, it is the father and husband. In a company, it’s the president or CEO.  In a school, it’s the principal, president, or director. Whatever the organization, it is fair to look at the example of the leadership.  Typically, everyone else in the organization has to live with the decisions and is effected by the direction of the leadership.

The church’s leaders will give an account (Heb. 13:17). The man of the home is likewise accountable (Eph. 5:22-6:4).  This holds true for leaders all the way up to the leaders of nations (Psa. 82:1; 110:5).  We all find ourselves in positions of responsibility and most of us serve in some leadership capacity.  Let us take seriously the accountability that we have to lead, be it children, the lost, neighbors, friends, or entire groups of people.

 

 

HAVE YOU HEARD ABOUT THE LONESOME LEADER?

Neal Pollard

He feels displeasure. An event usually triggers this. He reacts to the behavior or problems of another through negative emotion. An element of disbelief or disappointment may be the catalyst for his displeasure.

He feels disfavored. He may feel that God is against him, since he is going through the crisis. He will repeatedly ask, “Why?!”

He feels resentful. In these “lowlight” moments, he can resent the people who rely on his leadership. He may even feel like a surrogate, though stressed-out, parent. He may wonder why God put him into this caregiver role.

He feels helpless. He may feel unequal to the challenge before him. He may not know where to turn or how to resolve whatever the matter or issue is.

He feels overwhelmed. This is where the lonesomeness can feel greatest. He feels burdened down and incapable of carrying such a load. There may even be panic or at least severe dismay.

He feelsdepressed. He may even want “out of the job.” In severe cases, the depression can give him a distaste for life itself.

It is easy to see that problems leaders confront can seem like a snowball. Often, the reason the problem grows is because the leader is trying to do the work alone. The scenario painted above is not from my expertise or experience. It is an analysis of Moses’ problem in Numbers 11. the displeasure (11:10) and feelings of disfavor (11:11), resentment (11:12), helplessness (11:13), being overwhelmed (11:14) and depression (11:15) had brought this amazing leader to the brink. Moses apparently had a problem with letting go and getting others’ help (see Exodus 18).  The answer to both leadership dilemmas was identical. “Let others help!”  This time, instead of Jethro, God gave the answer to the “lonesome leader” syndrome. The solution came in the form of 70 men, helpers who would ease Moses’ burdens.

Many other Bible examples show the wisdom of delegation and letting others help shoulder the load. It was God’s idea, so we would expect it to work.  It worked for Old Testament Israel. It will help those who lead in spiritual Israel today. Elders and other church leaders who “get” it show wisdom and insight while finding relief and peace of mind in serving God.  You can break out of the “lonesome leader” syndrome!

HE WAS THEIR CAPTAIN

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Neal Pollard

It has been suggested that the Psalms where David appears most anxious were written from the Cave of Adullam. His time there represented one of the deepest valleys of his life. Yet, one of the many contrasts between the man who would be the most beloved king of Israel and his predecessor was the great drawing power he possessed. The drawing power was not his military prowess, though he possessed it. It was his righteous and godly way of life. His brothers and members of his family came to him there, but so did another group. About 400 men crowded into this cave. It is what is said about the non-relatives in the cave that catches my eye. Consider what is said in 1 Samuel 22:2.

Those in distress came to him. It is not said why they were distressed, but in their distress they gravitated to David. Maybe he soothed them by his faith or through his songs. But the distressed knew David would be a source of comfort.

Those in debt came to him. It is not clear how they had gotten into debt, whether of their own poor choices or through some unfair tactic of Saul or someone else. The Bible elsewhere condemns folly which leads to debt, but there is no such judgment here. The endebted knew David would be a source of relief and protection.

Those in discontent came to him. There is no reason to believe that these were discontent in the way their grumbling and complaining forefathers had been. It could well have been that they were discontent with the dangerous spiritual direction the nation was headed under Saul’s leadership. The discontent knew David would be a source of optimism and leadership.

There are people like these around you today. Some of them are your spiritual brothers and sisters. Others could be, if you were able to lend them the comfort, relief, and leadership that Christ promises (cf. Matt. 11:28-30). Are you the kind of Christian that others come to for help and guidance? Learn from David’s example and be an oasis to a world in a desert of sorrow and sin.